Monday, 28 May 2018

Taking Time Out

Recently I read a post on Thesis Whisperer by Phillipa Bellemore called "The tale of 23 Overdue Books". It was a great post to read, as it was about the personal tragedies which had struck Phillipa as she was undertaking her PhD.

I posted a brief reply on the blog, saying "Thanks so much for sharing your story. Boy, did it resonate with me! I have just had the most god-awful year, and am not even at confirmation of candidature. I too have just taken a brief leave to try to get my head back into PhD-Space (similar to, but different from Terry Pratchett's L-Space ;-D). This is due to a whole series of events that left my life reading like a soap opera: and one of those really unbelievable ones that most of us would roll our eyes at and say "Pshaw, what a load of cobblers! No one has a life like that!"."

It was after I had posted my reply that I got thinking: I had not really talked publicly about the full horrors of the past year for me, and that I had to take time out because the world had got too much. So I decided that there was no time like the present.

My Father died last April, unexpectedly, after a week in a hospice. We knew he was not long for this world, but we had all fully expected him to bounce back several times yet. He didn't. I was his executor, so spent some time winding up his affairs. My husband, who has congenital arthritis, had a hip replacement already booked for the end of April and was then pretty much incapacitated for three weeks of his six week recovery time. So as my husband was recuperating in May, my Uncle - my Godfather - had some bad falls, got hospitalised, and the hospital said that he needed to go into a nursing home (rightly so. He was no longer safe alone at home). My brother, my Mother and I had to pack up his house and store all his effects, get all his paperwork sorted out including powers of attorney and so forth, get him moved, and arrange a visiting roster.

Then, just as my husband went back to work in June, my Mother had a bout of pneumonia, and upon visiting her in hospital, found that she had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Without my Father to support her, I became her support person, ensuring that she received appropriate and timely medical diagnoses and care through the health system (which is quite a time consuming process), all the while keeping an eye on my Uncle in the rest home. Just as my mother was recovering, my husband went in for his second hip replacement. My Uncle then had developed some ulcers in the nursing home, and got sick as well, ending up in hospital. We live 45 minutes away from the hospital, and with my Mother, husband and Uncle all in hospital, all in different locations, all I seemed to be doing was hospital visits and driving. Showering? Eating? Pah, who needs that rubbish, eh?!

Eight weeks past that, at the very beginning of September, my Uncle died. As with my Father, I was also my Uncle’s executor. The winding up of his estate is still ongoing. I am still trying to sort out bank accounts, trust arrangements, and transfers.

Then, in December, my sister-in-law was found to have grade 3 breast cancer. She was told that she would need to undergo very intensive chemotherapy, and that the prognosis was uncertain. Everything seemed to take a long time to organise, and it almost seemed like the Australian health system was more convoluted, arcane and ambiguous than on this side of the ditch.

I was at the screaming "ENOUGH, ENOUGH ALREADY" point. But no, just as I was hoping that the year was over and things would improve, my lovely old dog died of cancer in January; and we have now heard that my sister-in-law’s cancer is not responding to treatment, along with a previously undetected lump being found in her other breast.

Of course, all amongst this I have been working - I teach year three management papers on two undergraduate degrees - and have tried to finish off one review article, one research project/article and push on with my PhD proposal.

Luckily - am I crazy?! - we got a new puppy in January as well. He had been on order for the past year... and has taken a lot of time and training to get his behaviour where I would like it. I also have two new supervisors who I am training for one of the papers - a capstone management project paper - that I co-ordinate. Overwhelmed? Not at all...!!!!!!

After all that lot, I have just bitten the bullet and talked to my supervisors about taking three months out. My supervisors are great, and were very supportive of a leave. While I know that three months won't won't be long enough, I am hoping it will buy me a brief breathing space so I can at get my Proposal completed enough to get my PhD project underway. 

I feel like there is a wall keeping me out of my project at the moment. Here's hoping it is like Jericho and will come tumbling down... without any more casualties.

Sam

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